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Japanese nationality law

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Title: Japanese nationality law  
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Japanese nationality law

Japanese nationality is a legal designation and set of rights granted to those people who have met the criteria for citizenship by parentage or by naturalization. Nationality is in the jurisdiction of the Minister of Justice and is generally governed by the Nationality Law of 1950.

Nationality by birth

Japan is a jus sanguinis state as opposed to jus soli state, meaning that it attributes citizenship by blood but not by location of birth. However, in practice, it is by parentage but not by descent. Article 2 of the Nationality Act provides three situations in which a person can become a Japanese national at birth:

  1. When either parent is a Japanese national at the time of birth
  2. When the father dies before the birth and is a Japanese national at the time of death
  3. When the person is born on Japanese soil and both parents are unknown or stateless

A system for acquiring nationality by birth after birth is also available. If an unmarried Japanese father and non-Japanese mother have a child, the parents later marry, and the Japanese father acknowledges paternity, the child can acquire Japanese nationality, so long as the child has not reached the age of 20. Japanese nationality law effective from 1985 has been that if the parents are not married at the time of birth and the father has not acknowledged paternity while the child was still in the womb, the child will not acquire Japanese nationality.[1][2] However, Japan's Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that denying nationality to children born out of wedlock to foreign mothers is unconstitutional.[2]


Naturalization in Japan requires the applicant to renounce their current citizenship(s) after the naturalization takes place. The Japanese government does not have strict rules for the naturalization process, even though the documents that need to be collected for application from applicant's home country might take quite some time. Basic naturalization requirements differ from person to person regardless what country the applicant is from and depending on applicant's current status in Japan. Unlike most other countries, the applicant does not have to be a permanent resident to be eligible to apply for Japanese naturalization.[3]

The criteria for naturalization are provided in Article 5 of the Nationality Act:[4]

  1. Continuous residence in Japan for five years or more
  2. At least 21 years old and otherwise legally competent
  3. History of good behavior generally, and no past history of seditious behavior
  4. Sufficient capital or skills, either personally or within family, to support oneself
  5. Stateless or willing to renounce foreign citizenship

The Minister of Justice may waive the age and residence requirements if the applicant has a special relationship to Japan (for example, a Japanese parent).

The Nationality Act also provides that the Diet of Japan may confer Japanese nationality by special resolution to a person who has provided extraordinary service to Japan. However, this provision has never been invoked.

For many years naturalized citizens were required to adopt a Japanese family name.[5] The Ministry of Justice determined in July 1983 that naturalizing citizens were no longer required to adopt Japanese names. As of that time most naturalizing citizens were Koreans.[6] A well-known example of someone who did not adopt a Japanese name is Masayoshi Son, the wealthiest man in Japan as of 2007, who naturalized using his Korean family name rather than the Japanese family name he used during his youth.[7]

The application has to be made in person to the Ministry of Justice branch office with responsibility for the city where the applicant lives. A booklet will be given to the applicant at the first visit which explains every needed document and processes explained in Japanese.

The naturalization process has three stages.

  • First stage: Initial application in person and gathering needed documents; preparing and filling out all necessary forms in Japanese; and submitting all prepared documents to the Ministry of Justice in person. An application number is provided to the applicant for future correspondence with the case.
  • Second stage: The Ministry of Justice checks the submitted documents. Oral and written interview are scheduled a month or two after submitting the documents.
  • Third stage: Finalization. The Ministry of Justice sends all documents to Tokyo and the applicant is requested to inform any changes of address, telephone, work, marital status, etc. while application is being reviewed.

The booklet given at the beginning of the process lists every document that the applicant needs from their home country and their country's embassy in Japan. The applicant needs to be able to speak and express himself/herself in Japanese and be able to answer the interview questions in Japanese. The interviewer will ask questions about the form applicant filled and about why applicant wants to acquire Japanese citizenship. At the end, there may be a written test at an elementary school second grade level.

After the documents are sent to Tokyo for processing at the Ministry of Justice headquarters, it can take from 8 to 10 months (or longer depending on the applicant) from the first application. The applicant will be called by their interviewer about the decision once the interviewer gets the results from Tokyo.

Loss of citizenship

Loss of citizenship requires the approval of the Minister of Justice.

A Japanese national is assumed to have renounced their nationality upon naturalization in any foreign country.[3][8]

Under the revisions made to the Nationality Law in 1985, Articles 14 and 15 require any person who holds multiple citizenship to make a "declaration of choice" between the ages of twenty and twenty-two, in which they choose to renounce either their Japanese nationality or their foreign citizenship(s). Failure to do so entitles the Minister of Justice to demand a declaration of choice at any time. If the required declaration is not made within one month, their Japanese nationality is automatically revoked. A renunciation of foreign citizenship made before Japanese officials may be considered by a foreign state as having no legal effect as is the case with, for example, United States citizenship.[9]

Japanese nationals who hold multiple citizenship by birth, and who do not wish to lose their Japanese citizenship, are required to declare their desire to retain Japanese citizenship by the age of 21. Part of fulfilling this requirement is to "make an effort" to renounce other citizenships once they have declared their intent to retain Japanese nationality. This may be difficult for some Japanese with foreign nationality, for example, Iranian nationals cannot renounce their Iranian nationality until age 25.[10] While dual nationals of Japan and Iran born to Iranian fathers may not have to renounce their Japanese nationality, exercising their other citizenship in Japan is considered an expatriating act that nullifies their Japanese citizenship. This is true for a Japanese national holding any dual citizenship. For example, people with Japanese citizenship cannot take part in the JET Programme. If a Japanese national obtains a visa for such a job in their foreign passport, that is deemed an expatriating act. If a child is born with dual nationality or acquires it as a child as a result of the parents naturalization, the child may hold dual nationality, but is not allowed to exercise his or her rights as a foreigner in Japan.

A Japanese national does not lose his or her nationality in situations where citizenship is acquired involuntarily such as when a Japanese woman marries an Iranian national. In this case she automatically acquires Iranian citizenship[10] and is permitted to be an Iranian-Japanese dual national, since the acquisition of the Iranian citizenship was involuntary.

In November 2008, Liberal Democratic Party member Taro Kono submitted a proposal to allow offspring of mixed-nationality couples in which one parent is Japanese to have more than one nationality. The proposal also calls for foreigners to be allowed to obtain Japanese nationality without losing their original citizenship.[11]

Dual nationality

It is generally difficult to have dual citizenship of Japan and another country, due to the provisions for loss of Japanese nationality when a Japanese national naturalizes in another country (see "Loss of citizenship" above), and the requirement to renounce one's existing citizenships when naturalizing in Japan (see "Naturalization" above).

There are still some ways in which a person may have dual citizenship of Japan and another country, including:

  • They had dual citizenship prior to January 1, 1985, when the Nationality Law was enacted
  • They acquire multiple citizenships at birth, such as being born to a non-Japanese citizen parent and acquiring that parent's citizenship as a result of that country's laws or by being born in a jus soli country. However, they must choose one citizenship/nationality before the age of 22 or within two years if the second citizenship is acquired after the age of 20, or they may lose their Japanese nationality (see "Loss of citizenship" above).[12]

See also


  1. ^ Nora Fitch (19 July 2005), Strict enforcement of ill-conceived clause in Japan's Nationality Law threatens families., Japan Times, retrieved 30 October 2008 
  2. ^ a b Agence France-Presse (30 October 2008), (UPDATE) Japan top court strikes down nationality law, Philippine Daily Inquirer, retrieved 30 October 2008 
  3. ^ a b Ito, Masami, "Many angles to acquiring Japanese citizenship", Japan Times, 27 December 2011, p. 3.
  4. ^ Japan's Ministry of Justice: The Nationality Law (in English)
  6. ^ Hollerman, Leon. Japan, Disincorporated: The Economic Liberalization Process (Issue 363 of Publication Series). Hoover Press, January 1, 1988. ISBN 0817986332, 9780817986339. p. 171. "As another step toward internationalization, in July 1983 the Justice Ministry decided that naturalized citizens (most of whom are Korean) would no longer be required to adopt Japanese names."
  7. ^ Masayoshi Son was among the first to flout Japan's business establishment The Washington Post, May 9, 1999
  8. ^ Article 11, The Nationality Law, Ministry of Justice of Japan.
  9. ^ Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship, United States Department of State. 
  10. ^ a b Civil Code of Iran (last amended 1985), UNHCR, 2008, retrieved 30 October 2008 
  11. ^ Minoru Matsutani (November 14, 2008), LDP panel mulls easing law on dual citizenship, The Japan Times 
  12. ^ "The Choice Of Nationality". Japan Ministry Of Justice. Retrieved 10 June 2010. 

External links

  • Japan's Ministry of Justice: The Nationality Law (in English)
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